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Inoculating Against Ageism: An Interview with Laurinda Reynolds of Ageism First Aid

We recently talked with Laurinda Reynolds, Professor of Gerontology, MA, CPG, at American River College in Sacramento, CA, about the Ageism First Aid (AFA) Project she leads. The online course was launched nationally on the GSA website in November 2019. Reynolds received the Rising Star Early Career Faculty Award, recognizing new faculty whose teaching and/or leadership stands out as impactful and innovative, at GSA’s Annual Scientific Meeting in November 2020.    

The Ageism First Aid (AFA) course is targeted to people in the health and helping professions. What are the main takeaways that you hope they get out of it?

Like its namesake, traditional First Aid courses, the AFA course is intended to be taken every two years.  Ageism messages begin to bump and scrape our minds in childhood and accumulate as ageism against our future selves. From middle-age on, the messages can become stigmatizing. The first time a person takes AFA, the goal is to personally protect them against ageism and to cultivate ageism awareness. Observations of ageism after taking AFA supports keener ageism awareness and a deeper level of synthesis when taken again two years later.

Ageism First Aid is set up as an online, multi-module course. What are the three modules?

Module One provides information about Medicare, Social Security, the Older Americans Act, and the Aging Network. It introduces population aging and the increasing need for paraprofessionals and professionals in geriatrics and gerontology, explains the aging process, and dispels myths about aging that inform ageism.

Module Two explains ageism development within societies, and how individuals learn and develop ageism. It describes the many sources of ageism and the benefits of developing ageism awareness. It also makes the connection between ageism and elder abuse, exploitation, and neglect.

Module Three is communication training for the health and helping professions, with a focus on interactions with older adults. Cultural, race, ethnicity, cohort, sex, gender, eligion, and ability consciousness are integrated throughout the training. The strategies presented include person-centeredness, a person-setting-situation approach, and how to work toward ageism-free language.

What is the time commitment people need to make to complete the course?

The course does not have to be completed in one sitting; learners can login and logout as needed for 30 days after registering. Learners who read the slides complete the course in one to two hours depending on their reading speed. Listening to all the slides takes a little over four hours. Modules One and Two take 15 to 30 minutes each to read and complete, and Module Three takes 30 to 60 minutes.

The course was launched in November 2019. What feedback have you received from those who have taken the course regarding the impact it has had on their relationships with clients and colleagues?

Plans to assess the efficacy of AFA and to capture feedback about its long-term impact were interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, we do have immediate post-completion feedback, which has been consistently positive. For example, when asked how likely they were to share what they learned in AFA, 91% of respondents were likely to share what they learned with coworkers, friends, and family (61% Very likely; 30% Somewhat likely).

Related comments included, “I learned a lot even though I thought I already knew a lot. Now I understand more fully and feel confident sharing with others….” And: “I can't wait to call my mother and talk about what I learned while taking this course.”

Do you have any thoughts about ways to expand the course or disseminate it more broadly?

Creating another course about the many forms of ageism and examples of how they manifest would be a great way to expand on AFA and deepen ageism awareness. I would also like to see more collaboration between the Reframing Aging Initiative and the AFA Project.  As to broader dissemination of AFA, the plan is in place but the pandemic interrupted progress. Interested GSA and Academy for Gerontology in Higher Education members and affiliates should contact Judie Lieu (jlieu@geron.org) to learn more about the GSA Loyalty program, and how it can help increase academic program enrollment and help provide funds for projects and scholarships.

For more information or to register for the AFA course, visit the Ageism First Aid webpage.

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The Reframing Aging Initiative is a long-term social change endeavor designed to improve the public’s understanding of what aging means and the many ways that older people contribute to our society. This greater understanding will counter ageism and guide our nation’s approach to ensuring supportive policies and programs for us all as we move through the life course.

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